Valentine's is a pretty low-stress holiday around our house. Starting with our very first Valentine's together, Farmer Chad and I have kept the bar pretty low on the extravagance scale. I will say, he did pull out the dozen roses and surprised me in my classroom with a Barbershop Quarter (one of my secret loves) our first February 14th, but we wrapped up our day with a charming dinner at McDonald's at 9:00 pm. It was during lambing season and he was still working off the farm, so you do what you gotta do. McDonald's became our tradition for many years, but as our family came along and that's not so much a "treat" anymore, we tend to just stay home and do something special here.
I was pondering all of this a few weeks ago, and started waxing poetic about all of the ways food plays a role in our lives. It brings us together, offering sustenance not only to our bodies, but feeds our souls as well. It builds memories, strengthens relationships. I have so many good memories in the kitchen with those I love over the years. I remember making Christmas cookies with my mom, not only gingerbread cookies, but there was also a year when my parents hosted an open house and we got to make pretzel-shaped sugar cookies dusted with red and green sugar to serve. My brother and I were relegated to spend the evening with a babysitter upstairs, but I felt pretty special that we got to help make food for the "grown ups".
My grandma was an amazing and adventurous cook and I grew up next door to her, like country "next door", so technically like 1/4 mile away. She collected recipes from every possible source, watched cooking shows on PBS, bought every cookbook she could and always had a fun cooking project going, like helping me learn to decorate cakes. I remember one time showing up at her house to find her baking pita bread. I had never even HEARD of pita bread, so the thought of my farmer's wife grandmother that had lived through the Depression making pita bread has always stood out to me. I remember watching alongside her in awe as the bread made it's signature pocket as it puffed up while it cooked. It was liked a miracle kind of bread! I don't think my grandpa quite knew what to do with a pita bread.
Then there were the early dating years with my farmer. He would swing by my house in Gardner for dinner after work before he headed to his home in Vinland. I loved cooking for him from the start, and he loved eating. We would talk about our days, clean up the dishes then part company until the next day. Sometimes he would make me dinner - like the first meal he made for me of grilled lamb chops and a Mediterranean-style salad, a recipe that he had found in a sheep magazine. After we were married, he would still grill dinner for the two of us and one time he even baked me cookies. He always said he could never do it again because he had no idea what he actually put in there.
In our early parenting days, we would spend time cooking with our foster kids and enjoy meals together around the kitchen table, then continued this on with our own kids when they came along. I remember one time we made a very failed version of tamales with some of our foster family members. They were terrible. But it was a great memory and we laughed the whole time we ate them. Jack and I would bake bread together every week when he was little and he would always wait anxiously to make a werewolf face in the dough before the second rise. And now Liddy brings me her Joanna Gaines cookbook every Sunday with recipe ideas for us to create together. So many great memories made in our kitchen.
I fear that maybe we are losing that sense of family and togetherness that comes from spending that time in the kitchen. With so much eating out, rushed schedules and snarfing down meals in front of the TV while searching Facebook on our phones, are we missing out on something? I say yes, and I am here to help you this year to find ways to reconnect as a family in the kitchen. Regardless of the results, take the chance and make some memories! Sometimes the biggest disasters make the best moments.
I'm going to give you some fun recipes, hopefully each month, to try to make something unusual as a family or with friends. This first recipe is for gnocchi. We actually had a group of friends over from church several years ago and had a gnocchi night together. It was a ton of fun! I've found a recipe that simplifies the process by using instant mashed potatoes, but you could always make your own mashed potatoes or even stop at the deli counter and buy some that are pre-made, skipping that step entirely. We had a family night Sunday making these together and it was really entertaining. In full disclosure, I was not really in the mood for a family night because I'd actually had about as much of my "family" as I could handle, but we did it anyway and it served as a re-set. Everyone picked the job where they wanted to plug in and we ended up with a pretty delicious final product. We put classical music on the TV, got our hands dirty and spent some time laughing and talking about life. I even learned that my husband had been a ring-bearer when he was a kid. I think it was a result of some "flour girl" pun, but it's still nice to know that we can learn new things when we talk together.
When we sat down to eat, Jack said, "This seems like the kind of dinner you might eat with a glass of wine before heading to the opera." I love that we had fun together, got to try new food and even got to feel a little "fancy", even though we were all coated with a thin layer of flour.
As for the recipe, here's the link for the gnocchi we made. I followed the recipe exactly this time, but I think our dough was a little soft so when we do it again I will add a little more flour to make the dough hold it's shape better. Also, make sure to cook for the 4 minutes, don't pull them as soon as they float. We tried that at first since I thought I heard that on a cooking show one time and they were a little gummy. We used a fork to make the lines/ridges since I didn't have a gnocchi board. It worked fine. For the sauce, I made an Italian Sausage Ragu based off this recipe, but we also made a Brown Butter Gnocchi which was also delicious. The crisp, browned edge of the gnocchi was a nice touch. And it's brown butter, so... Liddy ate more gnocchi than the rest of us. She's my noodle girl, for sure. You can see her sticking her spoon in the left side of the picture to taste the sauce.
So, if you're looking for something spectacular to do for Valentine's Day, stay at home! Make gnocchi with those you love and make some new memories. Those last way longer than roses or chocolate.